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JENNY ECLAIR ON PROGRESS VS PRESERVATION

The Camberwell comedian revels in news of a cinema for the area, but can we hang on to some of our favourite south London institutions?

Hello good burghers of south London. Good news – there really is going to be a cinema down Lordship Lane! There are men in hats measuring and everything. It’s all systems go and I for one cannot wait to sit in the dark watching something clever with subtitles.

In the meantime, talking about entertainment, I had yet another life-affirming night down at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern watching my old mate, the Australian singing, dancing Ken-doll that is Bob Down. Now, watching a middle-aged man prance about crooning medleys of hits from the 70s while dressed in a polyester safari suit might not sound like your cup of tea, but I assure you, it is.

I love the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. The long-established home of drag and cutting edge performance art, it has been south London’s premier gay ‘nitespot’ for years. It’s a proper grubby pub with the performance heart of the Albert Hall. The lamé curtains may have seen better days (haven’t we all?), but as long as there’s music, a mirror ball and a smoke machine, who cares? I have never left that place without a big fat grin on my face, which is why I worry for its future.

Please can we get the place listed? It’s 150 years old, its roots originate from when The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were in full swing and it’s a London landmark, but it’s dangerously close to where they are going rather glass-flats-and-contemporary-office-block mad. I’ve never seen buildings rear up so quickly as the developments from Vauxhall to Battersea. Suddenly there is no sky on our side of the river as a complete glossy new mini city emerges.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for regeneration in south London, God knows we’ve been waiting long enough, and it’s great to see the new Nandos and Dirty Burger by the bus garage, but are we in danger of losing our slightly down-at-heel charm? Personally I’m horrified at the transformation of Battersea Power Station into yet more luxury – ie unaffordable – flats. Everything is so high, so shiny… so please, God Save The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, the last unpolished Victorian gem in an ever-disappearing Sarf London.

In other news, now that I’m off tour and supposedly writing another novel, I’m delighting in finding all sorts of new distractions. My favourite is standing on Lordship Lane, closing my eyes for two seconds and then opening them to find another patisserie has opened. I’m also working my way through this summer’s must-reads. Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing won the Baileys prize for fiction earlier this summer, it deconstructs writing as we know it and is brilliant but slightly monotonous.

I’d have given the prize to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Do look out for the new Sarah Waters – she of Fingersmith fame – novel, The Paying Guests. It’s set in Camberwell and is available from all good local bookshops now.

jennyeclair.com

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